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December 22, 2009Sign-up for InsideHilltopperSports.com Wireless Text Alerts sent right to your cell phone!
Don't turn your back on Steffphon Pettigrew.
With 3:10 remaining in the game, Murray State junior guard Isacc Miles did just that on the junior forward. He picked off a WKU pass near mid-court and slowed down near the basket for a layup attempt.
Pettigrew, near the free throw line at the time of the steal, sprinted down-court, crept up behind Miles and skied for the block.
The Toppers turned their backs on the Racers in the second half, building a comfortable lead and coming out with an 83-72 win.
"The upperclassmen, we talked and we talked every day about this game," Pettigrew said. "We wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouths. Today, we did."
Pettigrew was a force all over the court, coming up with 18 points, including a pair of three-pointers and nine rebounds. Senior forward Jeremy Evans had nine rebounds as well, to go along with 15 points.
The biggest catalyst for WKU on the night however, came from senior guard A.J. Slaughter, who had arguably his best overall performance of the season. In 38 minutes, Slaughter had a team-high 20 points to go with nine assists, four steals and three rebounds.
"I'm gonna draw a lot of attention and it's gonna get other guys open," Slaughter said. "Especially when I drive to the basket, I have guys I can drop off to, like Pett and Jeremy. Jeremy's real athletic. A couple of times, I just threw it up to the rim and he went and got it. That helps when you have an athletic big man like him, too."
Slaughter came up with big play after big play.
With 9:08 to play, Evans came up with a big weak-side block. Slaughter picked up the loose ball, pushed the pace, pulled up and as he was knocked off-balance, drained a three from just right of the top of the key. Evans followed that up with another ensuing block. After a tight game throughout, the series of events finally pushed the momentum in the Toppers' favor for good.
"(A.J.) had great pace tonight," coach Ken McDonald said. "There were times that he just threw the ball back to Pett, made the right read, because of good defense on the ball screens and there were times that he kinda dragged the post out a little bit, changed pace and scored. Off the ball, he played the one, the two and three tonight. He's definitely finding his groove."
It was the second game WKU has been without junior forward Sergio Kerusch, who broke his right foot in practice Friday. His absence has left a void to be filled by Toppers who have not gotten big chances yet.
Tonight, freshman guard Jamal Crook got his first career start. In 26 minutes, Crook finished with eight points and five assists.
"The main thing I'm trying to do is just gain trust," Crook said. "Each time practice goes on, I just show what I can do, gaining (McDonald's) trust. It just helps me out as we go on."
WKU turned its back on last season's ugly 89-61 loss at Murray State, as well as from Saturday's embarrassing showing at Louisville.
"The whole team's just gonna have to play together," Pettigrew said. "Our bench came up big tonight. Solid minutes from Jamal, Jordan (Swing) Caden (Dickerson), you can go down the list. Our upperclassmen, we've been trying to play big as well. Once the whole team plays together, we have a big solid performance."
Opponents had still better check their rear-view mirrors at all times, though.
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